Near-total workplace smoking ban passes Atlanta City Council

By Maggie Lee

By a 13 to 2 vote, Atlanta City Council approved a ban on smoking and vaping in nearly all workplaces, including restaurants and the airport.

"No Smoking sign" by Indiana Public Media is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“No Smoking sign” by Indiana Public Media, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Cigar bars and hookah lounges will get a carveout. That is, places that get more than $250,000 or 20% of their annual gross revenue from tobacco sales per year.

“We support Atlanta’s smoke-free ordinance,” said Dr. Leonard Lichtenfield, the chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, which headed the effort to move the legislation.

“It’s not just the smokers who are exposed to this, it’s the second-hand smoke that can also cause disease and death,” Lichtenfield told Council on Monday ahead of the vote.

Several folks from the restaurant and nightclub industry pleaded for carveouts for their small businesses.

One was Hal Nowak, of Hal’s, The Steakhouse of Buckhead, where smoking is allowed at a downstairs bar. Walking into a smoking restaurant is a personal choice, he said.

“What’s next after smoking?” Nowak asked Council. “Health experts claim that drinking alcohol, eating fast foods and drinking soft drinks are bad for your health too. Does that mean our beloved Coca-Cola might be the next target?”

Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet offered an amendment that would have exempted adult entertainment establishments, but it was rejected by a vote of 6 to 9.

However, Council may yet tinker more with smoking regulations.  At the tail end of Monday’s Council meeting, a clerk read in the title of a new piece of proposed legislation: “to allow for the exemptions through the application process for existing establishments who do not meet the annual gross revenue threshold of $250,000 or more from the sale of tobacco products.”

It was assigned to the Public Safety Committee for consideration.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the Council’s vote tally. Due to a Council computer malfunction, the wrong vote tally was read out at Council.

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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